I spent nearly a year avoiding journalism — running from it, really.
I didn’t exactly plan it that way. But by the time second-semester senior year rolled around, it became obvious that I was pretty burnt out from my time at my college’s student newspaper — not just tired, but bitter, too. I had had a tough time of it, especially the “being the boss” part that came with the title of managing editor. I felt so insecure and overwhelmed and worn down by it all – the angry reader phone calls, the dangerously low staff morale levels – that all it took were a few alums preaching the hardships of life in the industry at our annual on-campus journalism conference to make me bee-line it for on-campus recruiting.
I opted for a gig in health care research, a job I picked because I thought it would be more social and less scary and just plain easier, if only because the work itself wasn’t so tied to my heart and my identity the way that creative writing is. I thought it would be easier not to care.
And it was. Until my pod-mate and close work friend, the girl I had sat within a few feet of since our shared start date, decided to take a job in journalism. She had no experience whatsoever but woke up one day and decided it was her dream and went for it. And off she went to an entry-level job at Congressional Quarterly, just like that.
I was sad she was leaving, upset by the prospect of not having anyone to split Seamless sushi with during those late nights spent writing briefs and trading gossip. But I also recognized a hint of something else in my reaction: I was jealous. Like, you’re going to be a journalist? Just because it’s your dream? Wasn’t that my dream too?
So I updated my resume and submitted a few applications and it wasn’t long before I too scored an entry-level journalism job, one that has already kind of launched me into the type of career those alums warned me not to dream about, told me didn’t exist anymore.
I was reminded of all this, my roundabout path to life as a professional writer, earlier this week, when it seemed like everyone and their mother was announcing a book deal, from my favorite blogger to my favorite Office character to my pseudo childhood nemesis (still too bitter to link to that one.) My first reaction was to berate myself for not yet having a book deal (duh), then immediately convince myself I had already squashed all chances of ever finding my niche in the writing world and finally concluding that I would never establish any type of career for myself whatsoever. (I come from this school of logic, in case you need some context.)
And then I forced myself to take a closer look at the book deals themselves, and at myself too. And I realized, first of all, that the nature of the publications-in-waiting are actually kind of comforting, as in: none of them are the Great American Novel. They’re cookbooks and personal essays and historical youth fiction, publications of all sorts of textures and tones and topics. It made me feel better to know that The Book Deal, this marker of writer-ly success, comes in all different forms. It made me feel like as long as I just keep writing, I’ll end up doing what I was meant to do. I’ll find my way to it somehow.
And one of the reasons I really, truly believe this is precisely because of those 10 months when I stubbornly refused to look at journalism jobs. I’ve realized that that’s just the way I work: right off the bat, I tend to lack resiliency — at the slightest sign of resistance I throw up my hands and declare myself down for the count. Until I get some sort of a kick in the ass, generally in the form of someone else accomplishing that which I didn’t even know – or wouldn’t admit – I wanted, and I dust myself off and decide, on my own terms and in my own way, that it’s time. And I give it a shot. And so far, I think it’s worked out just fine.
Especially considering that last time, I was just jealous of my close friend, who I adore. Imagine the shit I’ll be able to accomplish while trying to one-up someone who’s been pissing me off since we were five.
I just might be writing the great American novel yet.